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VOL. 39 | NO. 41 | Friday, October 9, 2015

Opportunities abound for student with perfect ACT score

By Hollie Deese

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Preston Abraham, 17, a senior at Goodpasture Christian School, holds certification of his perfect 36.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Preston Abraham had always imagined he would go to Vanderbilt University after graduating from Goodpasture Christian School in the spring, but it’s not the only dream school in the running anymore.

Not after the 17-year-old scored a perfect 36 this year on the ACT test, a feat very few achieve.

“I have always looked at Vanderbilt, and up north at schools like MIT and Stanford, schools with engineering,” he says. “I have always looked at applying to the highest schools I could, but once I saw my score I finally realized more is possible and that I could do it.

“But even with the highest score you can get, it is still only a 10 percent chance of getting in.”

Preston is among the academic elite. On average, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of students taking the ACT earn a top score. Nationally, just 1,407 of nearly 1.85 million students in the class of 2014 earned the top composite score of 36.

Preston is the oldest of five children, and his mother, Kim Abraham, says he has always loved to learn. He taught himself to read by age 4, memorized his multiplication tables by 5 and by age 6 had read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series – three times.

“We noticed there was something a little bit special there, but he is my oldest, and at first, I didn’t realize it,” Kim explains.

“One time in kindergarten we had a little homeschool trip to the zoo, and I went to check on him, and he said he couldn’t go to sleep because he did not know the capitals of every state, and couldn’t sleep until he did. So I went to my computer, printed them out and the next morning he had them memorized.”

Abraham was home schooled until the sixth grade, and then enrolled at Coopertown Middle School in Springfield. “He was so interested in his social studies class that he took the textbook home and read it cover to cover the first week,” Kim says.

Through the RISE program for gifted students in Robertson County, Preston traveled as an alternate with the CMS Future Problem Solvers team and won first place overall during an international competition in the individual category. He was a member of the Blair Boys Choir at Vanderbilt for five years singing at Harvard, Yale and Kings College, Cambridge University, in England.

Preston’s TCAP and PLAN scores were always in the 99 percentile range, and he was recently announced as a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist based on the PSAT test he took at the beginning of his junior year at Goodpasture, where he transferred for high school.

“We wanted a high school that was going to challenge him academically, and once we toured Goodpasture, he said it felt like home,” Kim adds. “We sent him there for the academics but what we have really come away with is the amazing staff, the friends he has made, the coaches. Everyone is so invested in the kids, and the Christian values have been amazing. You don’t get that everywhere.”

The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science. Each test is scored on a scale of 1-36, and a student’s composite score is the average of the four test scores. Preston first took the ACT in seventh grade through the Duke TIP program. With a composite score of 26 Preston was invited to attend both the state recognition ceremony at Vanderbilt University and the Grand Ceremony at Duke University. Afterwards, he told his parents he was going to make a perfect 36 on the ACT before he finished high school.

“My husband and I had no idea what the odds were on that but when he told us that we never had a doubt that he would do it,” his mother says. “For him, I don’t think there is a limit.”

ACT test scores are accepted by all major U.S. colleges, though there are about 800 schools across the country that are test optional, leaving it up to the students whether they want to submit their scores along with their application.

Last year, Hampshire College, a liberal arts school in Massachusetts, decided not to take SAT or ACT scores anymore – a decision that has landed them on the “unranked” list in U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings.

But it’s a move meant to draw students who can collaborate and think on their feet. On its website, the school states standardized tests more accurately reflect a family’s economic status than potential for college success, and that standardized testing is biased against low-income students and students of color at a time when diversity is critical to their mission.

Kim says there is a real lack of affordable resources available for gifted children and she’s lucky she was able to recognize Preston’s talent at a very young age and provide positive outlets for his gift.

“Giftedness is real and it needs to be nurtured, and the children need to be not only encouraged but given hands-on opportunities to meet their full potential,” she points out. “As home schoolers, our kids were able to work at their pace and dig deeper into the subjects that really interested them.

“We made learning fun and thoroughly enjoyed home schooling for six years, but it’s not for everybody, and eventually our family couldn’t continue either. Programs like Vanderbilt’s SAVY and Duke TIP offer great classes for high academic achievers, but they are very expensive.”

Preston’s next move will be based on which schools accept him this fall for next year’s incoming class.

“All the Ivy Leagues [acceptances] come back on the same day, and after that I will have a week to make my choice,” he says. “I am going to have an order before they come back, but it will be pretty hard to choose.”

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